Random Drug Testing at Southern Nevada High School Working

A random drug testing program for athletes at the Green Valley High School that began Jan. 28 is working, with students talking about why drugs are bad and about doing the right thing, its principal said.

Athletes who test positive for illegal substances jeopardize their eligibility to play or perform while in Nevada public schools.

"It's been a great success so far," said principal Jeff Horn. "We've tested over 50 individuals now, and things have gone very smoothly."

Only one student failed to pass random testing because of prescription medication, he said. The prescription was verified with the parents, and the matter was quickly resolved.

"That worked exactly the way it was supposed to," Horn said.

Random drug testing of athletes is new to regular high schools in the Clark County School District.

Green Valley is well on its way to becoming an unofficial pilot program for the state as well as for other local campuses. Horn said he's been contacted by at least four principals interested in creating their own random testing program.

"I am going to monitor what happens at Green Valley and work cooperatively with Clark County," said Eddie Bonine, executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, which regulates high school sports.

Bonine said he has no way of predicting whether random testing will be embraced statewide. It's a question of philosophy, he said, and different communities may not want to follow Green Valley's lead.

There's also the question of funding, Bonine said. Green Valley has received private grants and is charging athletes a $10 fee to pay for the costs associated with testing urine samples. Schools in rural areas or less affluent communities may not be able to generate similar financial support.

Across the nation, random testing of athletes is being embraced by elected officials, parents and educators who see it as a countermeasure for illegal drug use, especially performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids.

New Jersey tests student athletes in championship games. Florida
also has a pilot drug testing program for high school athletes. Illinois has plans to start one.

Texas is poised to launch the most ambitious public program of student drug testing in the United States. This spring, the state will embark on a two-year program to test up to 50,000 student athletes for steroid use. The program was mandated by the Texas Legislature, which earmarked $6 million for the program.

"It's the largest steroid-testing program in the nation," said Kim Rogers, communications director for the University Interscholastic League, which oversees high school sports in Texas.

The effort was fueled in part by research that showed about 2 percent of Texas high school athletes were using steroids, Rogers said.

At Green Valley, the testing covers a wider spectrum of illegal drugs.

Random drug-testing in high schools has become an increasingly common practice since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 cleared the
way for authorities to do so.

But one leading researcher cautions that random testing is a limited tool, not a cure-all, in the effort to reduce drug use among teenagers. To test or not to test high school athletes is a decision that should be made only after everyone is clear on the intent.

If the purpose is only to identify individual users, drug testing can be an effective tool, said Dr. Linn Goldberg, who heads the Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

But if the goal is to discourage drug use and educate teenagers on a large scale, then schools are better off spending their money on prevention programs.

"If you want to catch them at it and stick them in therapy, do it," said Goldberg, a certified doping control officer for the U.S. Olympics' drug-testing program. "But if you want to prevent drug use, testing's not going to do it."
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-02-10-08 1558EST

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